Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Secular Winter Holiday 2010!

Merry Christmas everyone! In addition, happy birthday to the blog! While I've been a bad blogger this year and only written twenty or so posts, it's still seven years old and that's still a reason to celebrate. So much has changed in my life in the last seven years and I can only imagine what posts I will neglect to write in the years to come.

As I believe I've written before, but I'm too lazy to check for sure, a big part of Christmas to me is reflecting on the past and tradition. Of course, that's true for most people, to a large extent, because it's a religious holiday. I, instead, concentrate more on the traditions of my family, both my immediate family and the ways I imagine my family, at least on the Ramm side, has celebrated Christmas for hundreds of years. When we cut out the little electric lights, we see a Christmas tree similar to one my family would have enjoyed in the 1800s or before, illuminated only by lit candles clipped to the branches.

I also remember the Christmases of my childhood, when both grandmothers and my uncle would visit. The grandmothers would entertain me and my brother as we waited impatiently for the magical moment when the sound of Bach's festive music alerted us to the fact that my parents had finally finished decorating the tree and it was ready to see. I believe Christmas Eves were approximately 96 hours long in those days. In the photo, which I believe is from the Christmas of 1979, you can see my marveling at my new toy, a remote controlled R2D2. Even in those days, I had probably requested Luke Skywalker, but this was the next best thing!

A couple of days ago, my Most Faithful Readers found the little R2 in the basement of their house. He looks a little worse for wear and doesn't do much other than make some odd noises when batteries are inserted, but I'm still glad they found him.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blu Blogging: New Desserts!

Blu Seafood and Bar introduced two new desserts this week. One is a cheesecake with pecan-praline crust and date-pecan-citrus-zest compote. It's very good. I'm not a big fan of cheesecake, but this was excellent. My Most Faithful Readers are more fond of cheesecake than I am and simply loved it. The compote is delicious.

The second dessert is a Chocolate Cobbler, or "Chobbler." It's similar to Blu's previous crisp-like cobblers, except that they've replaced the fruit with rich, fudgy chocolate.

Here you can see what it looks like inside. This was wonderful. I know I'll be sharing a lot of these in the future. Bravo!

Monday, October 04, 2010

I Could Have Stored Stuff in There

I had to have a tree cut down in my yard today, because it's possible that it could have fallen on the house. I was skeptical at first, because it looked relatively healthy at the top, with green leaves and everything, but my neighbor/landscaper said it had been struck by lightning and had to go. As you can see, he was right. I've never seen a tree that hollow before, and apparently it was like that all the way to the top.

I've figured the one to the right, in the same clump, would go eventually, because it's leaned quite a bit for years. I suspect it's hollow, too, but it will fall away from the house.

(thanks to my 2nd MFR for the photos!)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hackerspace Update

Several weeks ago, I wrote about attending the first Triangle Hackerpsace meeting. Well, we've been meeting weekly ever since and we've made a lot of progress. Given that this area is so spread out and suitable real estate in RTP is prohibitively expensive, it was concluded that it probably makes sense to have hackerspaces in individual cities, particularly both Durham and Raleigh. A wonderful 1380 sqft space was available in the basement of Snow Building, in downtown Durham, so we decided to go for it!

In fact, we moved in a whole bunch of stuff on Saturday and we're having our first meeting in the new space this Tuesday night. It's an open meeting, so come check it out! Be sure to follow @durhammakespace on Twitter to get the latest information, subscribe to the Durham Makerspace Google group and you can find all kinds of good info, see photos and videos on the Triangle Hackerspace website.

I'm particularly excited about the new location, because it's practically within spitting distance of my office. This evening, I took this photo from Pettigrew Street, after going up a nice hill to get there. This way, I can get exercise and look fondly upon the hackerspace building in one fell swoop. For the foodie in me, it's directly below Beyu Caffee and very close to Toast. It's perfect!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gelato at Cuban Revolution

Cuban Revolution, in American Tobacco, is now serving gelato (and at least one flavor of sorbetto). It's a mere hop, skip and a jump from my cubicle. They don't close between lunch and dinner. Danger! Danger!

It's very good. I tried the blood orange with the chocolate and that was an nice combination. It was extremely messy and it dripped everywhere, but it was worth it. I suspect my team will spend a lot more time there now.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blu Blogging: Lobsters and the Summer Menu

This week, Blu Seafood and Bar had their annual Lobster Night. Actually, they had a extended version, both Wednesday and Thursday nights. My MFRs and I had delicious lobsters and I was proud of how much meat I got out of the body, behind the little legs. It's easy to give up after the claws and the tail, but I was determined to get every little morsel. I'm positive that making so much jewelry, strengthening my hands, made this much easier. I'm guessing you have all seen lobsters before and you can correctly assume that mine was big and red. What you might not have seen before is Blu's lobster salad, which they were serving this weekend. It was a half lobster with prosciutto, avocado, tomatoes carpaccio, with a cream dressing. When, days later, you're still exhausted from taking apart a whole lobster, this salad really hits the spot. I hope I get to have this again soon without waiting for the next annual event!

Blu has a new summer menu. I was relieved once again that Oyster Rockefeller was still there. Above, you can see the latest version of the salmon, with couscous, cucumber relish and feta. My 2nd MFR had this in between his regular servings of pork tenderloin.

The heirloom tomato and watermelon salad is back! I think I started eagerly asking Chef Tim Lyons about when this salad would return back in January, just in case watermelon and tomatoes would be in season early this year. It's such a great combination of my favorite things, with goat cheese and a balsamic glaze, too. Proportionally, there are very few greens at all. It's just the way a salad should be!

Blu also recently had a special appetizer of fried clams with an ancho chile cream sauce. It was incredibly good and I think I even liked them better than fried oysters.

It's been just over 24 hours since I was there, but I'm already eager to go back. I need to have the pecan-encrusted trout with orange brown butter sauce again.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Triangle Hackerspace

Last Friday night, I went to the inaugural meetup for Triangle Hackerspace. Several of you have asked me about it, so I thought I should write a bit more. Basically, the idea is for interested people to get together and find a suitable location to create a place to hang out and work on projects together. Based on the 40 to 50 people who attended the first meeting, I suspect that when it gets off the ground, most of projects will mainly be electronics and software based, but probably not all. I think it's a neat and inspiring idea.

The leaders of this group are Alan Dipert (pictured above) and his wife, Ashley, who recently moved here from Rochester, NY, where they founded the hackerspace, Interlock. It's encouraging that they've done this before, because they should have a good idea of what works and what doesn't. They were eager to try organizing another hackerspace here after seeing the overwhelming success of Maker Faire NC, last April.

At this stage, the group will meet weekly to get to know each other and to find out who is really interested in participating and contributing to the effort. The next meeting is this Thursday at 7pm, at the Stanford L. Warren branch of the Durham Public Library. You can also find out more information at the Triangle Hackerspace website, follow @trianglehackers on Twitter or even join the #trihack IRC channel on

I also have to mention that the first meeting was hosted by Relevance, which has an absolutely beautiful space on the second floor of the same building that contains Dos Perros. It has lovely sponged yellow walls and the light streams in from several windows and skylights. The next Refresh the Triangle will be held there on August 26th at 6:30pm. It will be a talk on rapid prototyping by John Long, so I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Joan Baez at the North Carolina Museum of Art

A week ago, my 2nd Most Faithful Reader and I went to see Joan Baez perform at the North Carolina Art Museum's amphitheater. When I bought the tickets, I thought it was a bit of gamble, because it could have easily meant enduring a sweltering 100 degrees and and 99% humidity or the risk of a severe thunderstorm. Instead the weather was as glorious as Baez's singing. It was still a bit humid, but in the high 70s and breezy.

This was the third Joan Baez concert I'd been to, but I probably had the best view at this one, because the general admission handicapped seating is a flat platform just above the reserved seats, so there wasn't a chance of someone's sitting or standing in from of me to block my view. Parking was a bit of a hike, but everything is sandy or paved and flat, so it wasn't a problem. I'll have to keep an eye open for more concerts there, because it was really a nice experience.

It would be hard to beat seeing Baez, though, since she's one of my favorite singers. As always, she sang a few of her newer releases, but also plenty of Dylan's, her originals and traditional folk music.

My 2nd MFR took several photos at the concert and maybe someday I'll upload more of mine.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Osmanthus fragrans

This morning I went outside to feed my dear gray wreakers of havoc and smelled one of my favorite fragrances.
The Osmanthus fragrans is blooming again. If you're looking for an fairly innocuous looking bush to plant in your yard, then I heartily recommend this one. It's perfect for planting close to a window that's opened frequently, because the heavenly scent just wafts in, particularly at night. I think it smells like apricots or peaches, but better.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Farewell Taverna Nikos

Tonight, executive chef and co-owner, Giorgios Kastansias, managed Taverna Nikos, in Durham's Brightleaf Square, for the last time. After difficulties with leasing negotiations and the extended economic malaise, George decided to sell the restaurant in order to start a restaurant in Lincolnton, NC. George appreciates all the support he has received from the Durham community and expressed mixed feelings about leaving Nikos. Nikos Taverna, in Morrisville, continues to be owned by Bill Bakis.

It is my understanding that the restaurant will continue to remain open under the new ownership, with the current staff, who have been encouraged to stay. After some amount of time, it is expected that the restaurant will close for renovations and will reopen with a new theme and possibly an entirely new cuisine.

Having enjoyed Greek food at Taverna Nikos since 1992, I will certainly miss the restaurant. I have so many fond memories, of food, the staff, and conversations with family and friends. So many birthdays, farewell dinners and routine family dinners took place there and I will also miss our long conversations with George. My MFRs and I wish George and his family all the best!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blogtogether Brunch at Sandwhich

Yesterday I went to a BlogTogether brunch, organized by mistersugar. This picture was voluntarily taken by our waitress and more people arrived afterwards, but this accurately depicts the cheerful vibe of the morning. We primarily listened to the enviable plans of our visitors from San Francisco, Justin and Stephanie. Justin, who lived in the area a number of years ago, and his wife, Stephanie, are planning on taking a trip to New Zealand with an indefinite end. I am looking forwarding to reading all about it on their blogs, Justinsomnia and La Vie Soleil.

This photo even shows Bora, front and right, who was mentioned today in Newsweek!

The brunch was held at Sandwhich, on Franklin Street, in Chapel Hill. I had a delicious serving of French toast with perfectly cooked eggs. They weren't cooked solid, but they weren't completely liquidy either. Lovely!

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Last week, I went to Queen of Sheba with GEE, SOGEE and BOSOGEE. They wanted to go to Sugarland, a bakery on Franklin Street, in Chapel Hill. I was skeptical about the parking, but happy to check it out. Well, in some ways the parking was worse than I thought, because, in that section, they've put elevated planters next to the parking spaces, including the handicapped ones, so I wouldn't have been able to use my van's lift. On the plus side, Morehead Planitarium has a wonderful paid parking lot just a couple of blocks away. In fact, that's even better because you expend exactly the same number of calories going up the hill back to Sugarland as you consume when you're there. Exactly the same.

I thought the view of the entrance above was inviting enough, but they also have a marvelous mosaic on the floor of the entryway.

They have gelato! The instant I saw their display, I became a fan.

I got a small with passionfruit and pina colada. If you get a large, you can get up to four flavors. I used remarkable restraint. The passionfruit was delightfully good. I wished I'd gotten a large of just that. I love passionfruit anything. Someday I'm going to have to try the actual fruit.

You can take the gelato with you! Unfortunately, that wasn't mine.

They also have baked goods I'm just not a cupcake or a cake person, but I would have gladly eaten all the toppngs off of these. GEE got a chocolate and marscarpone cheesecake, SOGEE got a cupcake (pictured in the distance in an earlier photo), BOSOGEE got a giant creme brulee and all were happy.

These looked particularly good, too. They also have frozen martinis and an assortment of other beverages. They have wedding cake tastings each month, which seems reason enough to me to go ahead and get married if you're even thinking about it.

As you can guess, I want to go back. Actually, regular deliveries of their passionfruit gelato would be fine as well.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A NewThing I Made

Last weekend, in between coughs, sniffles and whines, I finished the sweater that I started about a year ago. I looked back through my non-searchable hand-written journal and couldn't find the exact date that I started, but I only write three sentences a day, so perhaps if it was the fourth most significant thing that happened that day. Some of you will remember that I bought a bunch of yarn at the Hillsborough Yarn Shop. I chose to use the Crystal Palace Panda Silk in "denim tones" for my first article of clothing (non-scarf, non-hat).

I have become quite enamored with the crochet designs of Doris Chan, who has written three books, Amazing Crochet Lace, Everyday Crochet, and, just released, Crochet Lace Innovations. She has a blog, also titled Everyday Crochet and she is on, a social networking site for people who knit and crochet. I find Ravelry particularly useful, because you can see what challenges other people have faced while crocheting the same pattern you've chosen, see what alterations and what yarn substitutions they've made.

I chose to make the Anisette Vest from her first book, because I'd realized that I had absolutely nothing formal to wear. Doris Chan specializes in "exlpoded lace", designs that are larger interpretations of lace doilies and other finery. In addition, while the stitch pattern is way more complicated than anything else I'd ever attempted, the construction of the entire garment was an extremely simple vest.

In the top photo, you can see the fabric immediately after I'd fastened off and woven in the yarn ends. Crochet lace fabric needs to be blocked, or dampened and stretched, in order to actually make lace. This involves briefly soaking the fabric in lukewarm water, spilling the entire amount of water in the floor, draping the fabric over a towel, rolling up the towel, squeezing it as much as possible, and then pinning it to a foam blocking board in the dimensions specified by the pattern. Knitpicks has an excellent blocking video tutorial, which leaves out the spilling step, but otherwise is very instructive.

Here's a close-up view of the stitch pattern. It's pretty much single-crochet and chain stitches. Since I would go for months without working on it, the most challenging part was always just remembering where I'd left off. When I started using stitch markers every six rows, to indicate a pattern repetition, that helped tremendously.

Here I am actually wearing it. I probably won't have an occasion to wear it for years, but at least I'll be prepared.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Update from the Squirrel Farm

I considered having "Squirrel Sundays" and then realized I just wouldn't be able to maintain even that sort of posting schedule. I'm sure you want an update on how the little buggers are doing, though. While I don't have cats to provide me with an endless supply of camera fodder, squirrels do an adequate job with perhaps equally zany and destructive behavior. Not all of them are as laid back as the fellow above.

This little guy, and I do mean comparatively little, seemed particularly perky. When I first put pieces of dried corn out there, many of the squirrels were terrified by it. They'd sneak closer and closer and then jump back as if it had bitten them. In contrast, this brave youngster chowed down on this thing for at least an hour.

As you can see, if you look closely, some of the kernels are getting stuck between the cracks, because the squirrels are good at making a mess. Guess what happens when the cob is gone? It's time to go after the remaining stuck kernels. While you may suspect they store all kinds of picks, power tools and straightened coat hangers in their nests, they decided instead to use their non-precision teeth for the job. I should have taken a photo of the aftermath with the piles of wood splinters everwhere, but I was too busy yelling at them. Yes, this morning (Pacific time), I opened the door and yelled at the cute, furry, poor and not-so-defenseless squirrel, who happened to be gnawing when I noticed. Of course, I immediately felt guilty.

Just a few minutes later, I noticed that another young squirrel had decided to climb all the way up to the second row of my bedroom windows. Once it got to the ledge, it seemed very upset and didn't know how to get down and I don't think it could have climbed onto the roof from there. You can see where I've circled it in the photo above. Eventually it jumped into the bush below, an Osmanthus fragrans.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Blu's Spring Menu 2010

I went to Blu Seafood and Bar this past weekend and had a great tuna tataki special. The seared tuna was surrounded by a delicious mango sauce. Nice!

My Most Faithful Reader had the new crab and mango salad! She didn't offer to let me try it, but it looked gorgeous and she said it rivaled our favorite yellow fin tuna tartare.

On April 7th (tomorrow!), Blu will be unveiling their new spring menu. That's always an exciting time where I look forward to trying the Chef Tim Lyons's new creations and I also worry that my favorites will be gone. Of course, sometimes I'll see them again a year later, but I just never know. General Manager Eryk Pruitt assured me that Oysters Rockefeller would stay on this menu and I breathed a sigh of relief. Tuna Tartare will stay, because I don't think they want to cause any riots on 9th Street.

Disclosure: Every now and then, my MFRs and I get a free dessert at Blu. I don't know if it's because I blog irregularly about them or because I've been known to eat there three times in one week. General Manager Eryk occasionally accepts my 2nd Most Faithful Reader's invitations to Duke basketball games and Eryk buys him dinner at a variety of fine Durham restaurants, which is awfully nice of him. Chef Tim Lyons's mom comes over and says hi to me every time she's in town, which is awesome. General Manager Eryk provides incredibly entertaining and intellectually stimulating conversation with almost every visit, ensuring that I will be mentally prepared for the upcoming zombie apocalypse or the next Alamo, whichever comes first.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Celebrating Greek Orthodox Easter at Taverna Nikos

Last year I celebrated Greek Orthodox Easter at Taverna Nikos, even though I'm not Greek and I'm not in the least bit religious. Well, I did once believe in the Easter Bunny. Does that count? The event involved food and dyed Easter eggs, so of course I had to be there. Each person dining at the restaurant that day got a bright red hard-boiled Easter egg for egg jousting. You hit your egg against the eggs of your dining companions and the one that doesn't get cracked is the winner and its owner can expect good luck for the rest of the year.

Last year I remember I was recovering from a cold, so I really appreciated the lamb soup. I will be looking forward to it again, too.

My 2nd Most Faithful Reader had sliced lamb. I'm sure my Most Faithful Reader had calamari or crab cakes, as she always does.

I am a huge fan of chocolate eclairs and I remember that this one was very good. Last night Chef George Kastanias said he was planning to make them again. He's really looking forward to the soup, though.

If you're interested in competing for eggcellent luck on April 4th and want to have some of the lamb dishes that George makes just for Easter, then be sure to make your reservations by April 2nd. See the Taverna Nikos website for more information.

Disclosure: Now that bloggers are required by law to mention free goods and services they have received relating to their blog posts, I need to get with it. I have, on occasion, received free food at Taverna Nikos since I started dining there in 1992. Bill Bakis, co-owner of both Nikos locations, hired a waiter that presciently anticipated the astounding growth in popularity of the Internets and that I would start writing a blog that mostly focuses on food by randomly giving my MFRs and me free food. (DW, if you're reading this, hey there!) We also went to his bridal shower where we received copious amounts of Village Salad (now known as Nikos Salad) for free. Chef George's mom flew here from Greece just to bake me a cake and give me a hug. Finally, I should also disclose that Chef George regularly asks my MFR to bake pound cakes for him so he will have something to eat for breakfast. She bakes them, too. For free. Well, I don't know if I'm required by law to tell you that, but isn't that odd?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Queen of Sheba

For the second installment of the New Year's Resolution Restaurant Series, I'll write about Queen of Sheba, in Chapel Hill. The restaurant, situated among the many fine restaurants in Timberlyne shopping center, serves Ethiopian fare.

I'd never tried Ethiopian food before, so my first visit was particularly exciting. Unfortunately, I was coming down with a cold, so I didn't think that my tastebueds or olfactory senses appreciated it nearly as much as I had hoped. We ordered two meat dishes, Yedoro Watt, chicken, and Minchetabesh, beef. We also ordered a vegetarian combination for one, which included four different salads and a red lentil dish, Yesmir Kay Watt. Yedoro Watt is the national dish of Ethiopia, so my dining companions definitely thought I should give that a try. It was delicious, with the meat falling off the bone, which is good when you don't have any eating utensils. This is obviously the place to go during a drought, because there are fewer items to go in their dishwasher.

For those of you who haven't eaten Ethiopian food either, it is served on and with injera, which is a spongy flatbread made from teff, traditionally grown in Ethiopia. The texture reminds me strongly of a sea sponge or some other sea creature, but it's the perfect compliment to all the dishes. You tear off small pieces and attempt to pick up the food, which is generally a pureed and mushy substance, for a lack of a more appetizing phrase coming to mind. On my second visit, I learned that it makes sense to use as small pieces of injera is possible, so you don't fill up on the bread.

Google Earth Evangelist (GEE) is the one who gave me this sage advice (although recently she's become more of a Poll Everywhere Evangelist, but I won't be using that acronym) when she joined me there last week. We started off with Ayib Begomen as an appetizer. This is made with a special cottage cheese made from buttermilk curds, hot pepper and herbs. This was extremely good.

We followed that with two vegetarian dishes, the red lentil dish that I liked best during my previous visit, Yesmir Kay Watt, and Atkilt Watt, green beans with carrots and potatoes. I loved the red lentils and they tasted much more flavorful when I could smell them. Our meal also came with two sides, which are the chef's choice. We had a Yeshimbera, which is a bright yellow chickpea salad with onions, lemon juice and olive oil and Yeavocado, an avocado and tomato salad. Both sides were excellent, but I thought the Yeshimbera was absolutely wonderful. Fortunately, GEE didn't like it all that much, because of the all the onions, so there was a lot more for me.

Overall, I'm eager to go back yet again. Their menu describes the restaurant as welcoming and friendly and that is a very accurate description. The chef and owner, Friesh Dabei, lights up the cozy restaurant with her smile and frequently visits the table to ensure a positive dining experience. I'm hoping to go there for lunch on a Saturday, because that would be the only time when I could try their Ethiopian coffee without staying up more than half the night.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


For my first New Year's Resolution meal, the MFRs and I went to Pancuito, in downtown Hillsborough. It takes me a mere five or six minutes to get there from my house and, now that I've been, it's comforting to know that it's there. The quality of the food, the elegance of the dining room and the service are quite befitting for the destination that Hillsborough has become in recent years.

My Second Most Faithful Reader had a pasta dish with shrimp, adame seaweed and wahoo. He commented that the shrimp were particularly well prepared. He's kind of obsessed with shrimp.

My Most Faithful Reader had the butternut squash ravioli with toasted pecans, pumpkin oil, wilted chard, breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, sage and brown butter. My list of ingredients is a little more thorough for this dish, because it's currently listed on their website. Often, I try to swipe (politely ask for) a copy of a restaurant's menu before I leave. I'm senile, you know.

There were many things on the menu that I would have been overjoyed to order, but they had duck ravioli. Duck is my favorite meat and I love ravioli, so the combination of the two was quite exciting to me, indeed. As I recall, it had pecorino cheese, which is a hard Italian cheese, made from ewe's milk. In any case, it had nice pieces of duck inside the pasta and the meat hadn't been turned into a paste. My meal was excellent.

We all shared pannettone bread pudding with cinnamon ice cream, honey and orange anglaise. This was a nice end to the meal. The entree portions are on the small side, so tackling the dessert wasn't a challenge. From my perspective small portions are ideal unless one is planning to take take half for lunch the next day, but it's important to consider that the entrees are all priced over $20.

Overall, it was a very pleasant experience. The dining room is beautiful and it's amazing how they have made a room with an old brick wall look so elegant with little white lights and exceptionally clear mirrors. The meal started out with our being served small complimentary glasses of Prosecco and ladies are encouraged to take home the carnations from the table. These flourishes make the outing feel more celebratory and I wonder if this association may actually discourage even the more affluent from frequenting the restaurant more regularly. I actually eventually realized that I didn't think of going to Anotherthyme more often was because I associated it with birthdays and similar celebrations.

I do look forward to trying more items from their menu. They frequently have "community dinners" where they set up a long table with communal dining and a prix fixe menu, as always, featuring produce and meats from local farmers. You can subscribe to their mailing list to learn more about them.